On Friday I attended a seminar at Melbourne Law School to meet Jennifer Nedelsky and discuss her work on creating new social norms around work and care. Her proposal – in a nutshell – is that all of us in Western societies should work a maximum of 30 hours/week and minimum of 12 in paid employment, and do a minimum of 12, maximum of 30 hours unpaid care work.
The goal of such a radical transformation of our time-poor lives is that currently care relies on and reinforces inequality. According to Nedelsky’s model, if we equalise our responsibility for caring then the hierarchies implicit in our current model of working life will be evened out. Care will become explicitly valued, policy-makers will have experienced caring to understand the issues at stake (and therefore develop better and more responsive policy), and our relationships will be enhanced.
Nedelsky’s utopian model is exactly what we need to shift the debate about work-life balance from hand-wringing to the genuine social reform we need – although there are inevitably some issues to be ironed out. This post distills my understanding of Nedelsky’s proposal, and draws on comments and discussion offered by participants in the Melbourne seminar. Inevitably I have not canvassed the full extent of her model – there is so much to think about.
I graduated in one of the first cohorts in law at the University of Queensland to comprise 50% women. Despite experiencing overt sexism in some of my job interviews and tacit sexism during my working life, it still did not occur to me for a long time that I would be treated any differently from my male counterparts. I thought sexism to be exceptional. As a young woman, I believed all in the profession would be treated on merit.
The intervening 26 years in the workforce has shown that the idea of merit excludes many people of merit. Hard work and talent are not enough – if it were, the upper ranks of the legal profession in particular, would look a lot more diverse.
We know this – study after study has confirmed it. We even know why there is a lack of diversity – that the culture of the legal profession operates in a deeply exclusionary way. What we don’t seem to know is how to dismantle this culture. This post forms the basis of some ideas I will be sharing at the 2016 conference of the Australian Women Lawyers (‘AWL’). In it, I offer some ideas on cultural change in the legal profession, focusing on changing entrenched gender bias.
Peter Dutton, a minister of the Crown, accidentally sent a text message to senior Australian journalist Samantha Maiden. The text message referred to Ms Maiden as a ‘mad fucking witch’ for having written an article critical of the behaviour of former minister Jamie Briggs. Mr Dutton publicly owned up to the text. Ms Maiden, while recognising that some would take offence, has graciously indicated that she herself is not offended by the remark. She has accepted Mr Dutton’s apology.
Others maintain that the slur is deeply sexist. So. Is the comment sexist? Or not? At the risk of fence-sitting, I think it’s both. More importantly however, it reveals the hypermasculine, combative mode of parliamentary conduct that is now well past its use-by date.